Dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) under the psychotherapy umbrella that seeks to provide people with critical skills that can help them diminish conflict in their relationships as well as manage difficult emotions. DBT hones in on equipping individuals with skills in four major areas:
1. Interpersonal effectiveness: Equips individuals with techniques that can help them better communicate with the people around them in ways that strengthen their relationships, make them more assertive, and help them maintain their self respect.
2. Emotion regulation: Teaches individuals strategies that can help manage and potentially even alter intense emotions that are causing issues in their lives.
3. Mindfulness: Zeros in on helping individuals accept and remain present in the moment at hand.
4. Distress tolerance: Helps increase tolerance of negative emotions (instead of reacting intensely or trying to escape them).
DBT was developed by Marsha Linehan in the 1980s. Linehan sought to treat individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) who were struggling to adjust to normal patterns of behavior. People who have borderline personality disorder tend to experience very intense, negative emotions that can be very difficult to manage. Such emotions, which may initially seem uncontrollable, often leak into an individual’s interactions with those around them, whether it be their family members, romantic partners, or friends. These intense, negative feelings can compromise the health of any of these relationships at any given moment.
Therapists who use DBT will consistently work with their clients as they search for ways to hold two perspectives simultaneously, promoting finding a balance instead of seeing the world in black and white. Overall, DBT encourages a both-and instead of an either-or approach to life and its complexities. It keeps individuals fueled by intense emotional surges from the dramatic entrance into one camp of thought or another which can create these surges.
While DBT was originally developed to treat individuals suffering from BPD, it can also treat various other issues, such as:
In general, specialists acknowledge that DBT skills hold the potential to help individuals who want to better:
Generally, DBT treatment will incorporate a mixture of DBT skills groups and simultaneous individual therapy sessions. Individuals who are enrolled in DBT skills groups will learn and practice DBT-related skills alongside their group members. In group sessions, members are encouraged to not only provide mutual support for one another, but also share their own experiences.
A typical DBT skills group will be led by one trained therapist who teaches members new, helpful skills each session and leads regular, practical exercises. Each group session tends to last for about one to two hours, and DBT skills groups will likely meet weekly for at least six months.
Concurrent individual therapy sessions consist of a client having a one on one therapy session with a trained therapist in order to make sure that all of a client’s particular therapeutic needs are being met. These one on one sessions will involve the therapist helping clients integrate and employ their DBT skills in their daily life, tackle obstacles they are encountering, and help them stay motivated.